2017 is shaping up to be a big season in Raleigh. North Carolina State has been picked as low as fourth in ACC Atlantic to as high as conference champion by some. They have been a “dark-horse” pick to make major strides this year. While there is some optimism at the moment, another season like 2016, and it could be Dave Doeren’s last year in town.
Head Coach: Dave Doeren. 5th season (25-26).
2016 Record: 7-6 (3-5). Defeated Vanderbilt (41-17) in the Independence Bowl.
Offensive playmaker: H-Back Jaylen Samuels
Top Defender: DE Bradley Chubb
While talk of a conference championship is getting a little carried away, the reality is Doeren needs a 8-9 win season with a marquee win. Heading into this year under .500 so far at State, there would have been just cause to scrap Doeren before the season. He saved his job with wins over North Carolina and Vanderbilt to wrap up 2016 but another mediocre year and it will likely be his last. While the Pack were a kicker away from a 9-win season, they lost to a 3-9 East Carolina and went 3-3 at home against FBS opponents.
This season, NC State will host Louisville, Clemson and North Carolina in ACC play, which is a big reason why they have been talked up. They still face a tough schedule away from home though with road trips to Florida State, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Boston College and Wake Forest on the cards. It’s hard to see them winning four of those five to contend for the Atlantic division.
They bring back some big-time players in Jaylen Samuels and Bradley Chubb. They were both named preseason all-conference by the media. Samuels will be the favorite weapon again of returning quarterback Ryan Finely. He’ll have a crowded backfield behind him as Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gallaspy and Dakwa Nichols were given the “or” treatment at tailback on the depth chart. They will have experience up front though, returning four offensive lineman.
On defense, Chubb will lead a defensive line that Will Muschamp described as “disruptive.” They’ll be in-experienced at the back-end though as they return only one starter in the secondary (Mike Stevens) and he will miss the game through injury. Senior Jerod Fernandez will lead the linebackers.
Jake Bentley and the Carolina passing attack should be able to have a good day as long the offensive line holds up. State will be counting on Chubb to wreck plays and help out their young secondary. This game could be the difference between a 8-win year and an 6-win year for the two programs. The latter won’t be enough to keep the Wolfpack head coach around.